IDF said set to build field hospital on Syrian border

After 7 wounded Syrians allowed in on Saturday, military is preparing for onrush of refugees, and wants to treat the injured on Golan Heights frontier rather than inside Israel

Ilan Ben Zion is an AFP reporter and a former news editor at The Times of Israel.

A sign warns of mines near the Syrian border with Israel in the Golan Heights. (photo credit: Flash90)
A sign warns of mines near the Syrian border with Israel in the Golan Heights. (photo credit: Flash90)

The IDF is reportedly preparing to erect a field hospital near Israel’s border with Syrian border on the Golan Heights in order to treat Syrian nationals wounded in the ongoing fighting and attempting to cross into Israel for medical assistance.

The decision to set up the hospital was taken two days after Israeli troops — in an unprecedented move in the two-year Syrian civil war — evacuated seven wounded Syrian refugees to an Israeli hospital after they had approached the border and appealed for help.

According to the plan, reported by Channel 10 on Monday night, the makeshift hospital will be set up close to the border in the central Golan Heights or near the Quneitra border crossing with Syria. The logic behind the move, the report said, was for Israel to be prepared to meet further possible medical pleas from additional Syrian refugees without having to take them for treatment inside Israeli territory.

The IDF reportedly expects that after Saturday’s incident, Syrian refugees will flock to Israel for sanctuary from the bloody civil war that has wracked Syria for two years and claimed tens of thousands of lives.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Office said it could not confirm the authenticity of the report. There were no details of when the hospital would be established, its size, or its precise intended location.

Speaking at the weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made clear Israel would not open its borders to Syrian refugees as a matter of course.

“We saw fighting yesterday on our borders,” Netanyahu said. “We will continue to protect our borders and prevent people crossing or entering into Israel, except for individual, specific cases, each of which will be considered on its own merit.”

The seven Syrians were injured on Saturday as clashes between rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad’s regime spilled into the Syrian side of the Golan Heights — dangerously close to Israel’s northern border.

“They asked for humanitarian aid,” said Amos Gilad, a senior Defense Ministry official, “and Israel extended its assistance.”

Syria and Israel are formally in a state of war, and Assad has frequently claimed Israel is one of the “foreign forces” he alleges are behind the violence in his country.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said soldiers initially treated the seven Syrians near the northern security fence along the frontier in the Golan.

The seven reached the Israeli border with a larger group of refugees escaping the violence in Syria. They were given preliminary treatment on the border after they were found to be unarmed. They were then transferred by IDF troops to Sieff Hospital in Safed in military ambulances — a first since the violence in Syria began nearly two years ago.

Hospital director Oscar Embon said one of the Syrians arrived at the hospital in critical condition, but was now in serious condition. The other six were said to be in moderate condition after undergoing surgery.

Israeli media identified them as rebel fighters, but they have been kept away from reporters.

The United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention requires that “anyone who crosses an international border and believes his life to be in danger in his country of origin must be given access to an asylum process,” Sharon Harel, assistant protection officer at the Israel office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told The Times of Israel Sunday.

The convention, and Israeli law, forbid the government from forcibly repatriating asylum-seekers, Harel said. That would apply even to citizens of an enemy state like Syria.

Yifa Yaakov and AP contributed to this report. 

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